Canadian Consulting Engineer

Keep “Consulting” For Individuals

July 1, 2008
By Bronwen Parsons

"This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper," wrote T. S. Eliot in 1925. While the demise of the name "Consulting Engineers of Ontario" is far from the end of the world, I thought t...

“This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper,” wrote T. S. Eliot in 1925. While the demise of the name “Consulting Engineers of Ontario” is far from the end of the world, I thought there might be a few more fireworks at CEO’s annual meeting in Toronto in June.

One lone voice was raised in dissent about the proposed change of name to Association of Canadian Engineering Companies-Ontario, or ACEC-Ontario for short. All attempts to rouse some discussion fizzled and around noon the ballot results were declared in favour.

A similar rebranding as “companies” as opposed to “consultants” has already been passed by ACEC at the national level, by Consulting Engineers of New Brunswick, and (right at press time) Consulting Engineers of British Columbia.

Given our title, this magazine declares a bias right from the start against losing the title “consulting engineer” altogether.

Certainly, “engineering companies” does more clearly reflect what the associations actually do, that is, they promote the business interests of engineering companies, and companies, not individuals, are their members.

But we hope the industry does not give up the title “consulting engineer” as it applies to individuals. The term “consultant” might have fallen into disrepute recently, but news headlines will fade from memory. From a semantic point of view the word consultant still carries the sense of an advisor, someone who stands side by side with the client. The idea of an engineering company, on the other hand, makes it clear that the entity you’ve hired to design your mechanical systems, for instance, is a business and ultimately has its own financial interests at heart.

Perhaps a true consultant has to be an individual rather than a company. I think, for example, of university civil engineering professors who have such specialized knowledge they are asked to advise clients on a very project-specific basis. I can think of one, for example, who has special knowledge of investigating oil rig collapses, and another who worked on the Confederation Bridge design.

It’s interesting that at the same CEO annual meeting, Kim Allen, P. Eng. of Professional Engineers Ontario presented their plans to have the P. Eng. seal made specific to the engineer’s discipline. I’m just musing, but that move suggests licensing bodies may be going in the direction of having specialist designations. Maybe one day the term consultant will be attached by all the provinces only to those senior engineers with special knowledge and expertise, as it is in the medical profession.

Another aspect of the name change that no-one seems to be talking about is the fact that “consultant” is part of the legal lexicon in the construction industry. Contracts and laws are written with “consultant” to refer to both architects and engineers. So whatever the associations decide, it will remain an important term.

Language has a way of resisting change. It sticks its feet into our minds and our social structures and stays put, no matter how much we wish to shift it.


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